Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate CHGO Sports Community!

Why the Chicago Bulls need to make a trade to get out of this mess — and why trading Zach LaVine isn't like trading Jimmy Butler

Will Gottlieb Avatar
June 21, 2023

The writing is on the wall for the Chicago Bulls.

The only way out of this mess is via trade.

The Bulls were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference last season. They missed the playoffs. Two of their three best players are in their mid-30s. They have no cap space and no picks in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

And yet, the most likely outcome is to run it back and expect a better outcome. Not only that, they’ll going to have to re-invest for the long term and give out contract extensions in order to do so.

Unbelievable as it may seem, there’s a reason running it back is the most likely scenario.

Given their lack of financial flexibility (the Bulls would likely go into the tax just by bringing Vucevic, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu back while losing Patrick Beverley), it will be nearly impossible to add talent on the free agent market. At the projected numbers for their free agents, even veteran minimums push this team into the tax. The Bulls don’t have any draft picks either, so they can’t add an impact player that way.

The only way out is via trade. But any deal they lose, they won’t make. If they’re not going to move one of their big players, they can’t do anything.

The math isn’t that difficult to figure out.

So the only hope for the Bulls now is to get bailed out by an overzealous bidder desperate for star power. But from rumors around the league, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Zach LaVine, despite the Bulls reportedly shopping him to select teams. He’s reportedly not a legitimate target of Portland’s in a potential trade for the third pick.

According to KC Johnson, rival execs suggest the Bulls could be “focused on getting a good young player, multiple first-round picks and salary filler” or “an established, high-end player.”

Kyle Neubeck had similar reporting suggesting that the Bulls would be focused on a more traditional star package “around a younger player with upside and multiple picks.”

This is absolutely the kind of deal the Bulls should aspire towards. But what if they missed their chance to get Donovan Mitchell or Dejounte Murray type return? Is it time to re-evaluate what sufficient return could be?

Potential Trades for Zach LaVine

In the past, I have argued that the Bulls should simply keep LaVine if they can’t extract value for him in a trade. Obviously the Bulls should try to get as much as they can for LaVine. Same is true for DeRozan and Vucevic.

But now I’m wavering. Just because there is a door two doesn’t mean whatever is behind it results in a better outcome. There’s an equal chance the outcome is worse.

Assuming the Bulls can’t get into the top six in the draft for LaVine, here are a few fake trade ideas for LaVine, all of which check out on the trade machine.

Do any sound that exciting?

  • LaVine to the Mavericks for Davis Bertans, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Jaden Hardy, 10th overall and a protected pick in 2027
  • LaVine to the Pelicans for CJ McCollum, Dyson Daniels, 14th overall and a protected 2025 pick via the Bucks
  • LaVine to the Lakers for Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba, Jarred Vanderbilt, 17th pick and a protected pick in 2029
  • LaVine and Derrick Jones to the Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, 21st overall, 22nd overall and a 2025 pick via Phoenix
  • LaVine to the Heat for Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo, 18th overall, 2027 first-round pick and 2029 protected first-round pick

Maybe the market changes after another major domino falls, but we’re at a point where these seem like the best-case scenario trades for the Bulls. Getting less than any of these deals would be a gut punch, but it could also be asking way too much.

If the Bulls are the ones calling around the league asking teams to make offers on him, LaVine is clearly is not valued as some think he should be. That market may shrink in the new CBA.

Is it worth moving him now to reset course and avoid risk of his value decreasing?

LaVine could sustain another injury that tanks his value. He could play worse. The going rate for All-Stars could decline in the new CBA. Another losing season may affect his reputation further.

Coming off a healthy, productive season, this may be the Bulls opportunity to sell at LaVine’s peak.

He is a hard worker and has been a great soldier through an arduous rebuild. It may be best to finally give him the opportunity to win at a high level in a better situation than what the Bulls have to offer him.

Why trading LaVine isn’t like trading Jimmy Butler

Many will argue against trading LaVine to avoid a Jimmy Butler redux, but this is a different situation. Though the Bulls are still recovering from the Butler trade, there was more upside to be lost by trading Butler than there would be in trading LaVine.

First and foremost, Butler was (and still is) better than LaVine. He’s a two-way star, a mistake free player who can close out games. Second, the Bulls’ asset base at the time of the Butler trade was good enough to add talent, whereas now, they are capped out and missing two future picks. Third, even if they sell relatively low on LaVine, they will get more in return than they got for Butler.

Instead, the Bulls should look to the Bradley Beal trade as a cautionary tale. Everyone but the Wizards front office knew the best thing for the organization was to trade Beal to set up a rebuild in 2019. And 2020. And 2021. And 2022. Instead, the Wizards strove for the middle year after year with no hope of getting themselves past the first round of the playoffs.

In the meantime, Beal missed games, lost value and ultimately signed a contract so big that the best the Wizards could do was dump him for cap space and a blank canvas.

The Wizards could have taken their medicine at any point, skipping out on four years of mediocrity to set themselves up for a relatively smooth rebuild. Instead, they wasted away in the middle for years and will now prolong their lengthy road to recovery.

Of course, LaVine doesn’t have the no-trade clause, which means the return should be better than what the Wizards got for Beal. But a similar version of the same path is not a path I want to be on.

It all comes back to the Bulls goal: stay competitive under the luxury tax line. There’s a reason running it back is the most likely scenario.

But even with Continuity 2.0™️, there are no guarantees the Bulls can even get back to the mediocre level they played at last season.

The Celtics, Heat, Bucks and 76ers remain the class of the East.

The Cavaliers, Knicks, and Hawks are a step below, but are clearly better than the Bulls.

The Magic, Pacers, Pistons and Hornets, all drafting in the top seven and are already loaded with young talent. Their room for growth far exceeds the Bulls — any or all of them could end up with better records next year.

Depending on the direction the Nets and Raptors go, they could easily be better than the Bulls as well. The only sure-fire tanker in the East is the Wizards, who have at least decided on a clear direction.

There could even be two new expansion teams later in the 2020s! That would stiffen the competition even further.

In the end, all roads lead to the same destination. It’s only a matter of whether you want some control over the situation. The Bulls can grind this core into dust over the next three years and turn into the present day Wizards, with clean books and no future assets, if they’re lucky.

Or they can get ahead of the mess, starting the next iteration of Bulls basketball a few years sooner and with a few more assets in their back pocket.

Looking for a way out in the trade market is a no-brainer.

Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?